Tag Archives: Anna Nicholas

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: # 8 AEA and the Future of Self-Production in LA

# 8.  AEA and the Future of Self-Production in LA

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

This week’s post was supposed to be about casting directors but if a proposal made by Actors Equity Association (AEA) goes through at the end of this month, LA’s Theatre landscape will likely be irrevocably altered. The 99-seat plan, which has been around for about 30 years, will cease to exist. As an ever-emerging playwright with a law degree (don’t ask) and a predisposition toward full disclosure, you should know at the onset, I’m opposed to the proposal. And while there’s still time to influence voters, I’m postponing the casting installment in favor of outlining how proposed changes might affect you, the self-producing playwright, and what you can do about it. Get your latte, medical MJ, kombucha or what-have-you and read on.

Under the existing 99-seat plan, if you want to self-produce your play you can rent a theatre, hire a director, designers, cast willing, AEA actors (for very little money–$11/performance to start) and put on a show for about $30,000 (see Post #5 in this series http://lafpi.com/2015/02/the-self-production-series-with-anna-nicholas-5-budgeting/).

If the proposal passes, AEA actors will need to be paid minimum–but still not a living–wage (See below for exceptions) from the first day of rehearsals through closing night. Doesn’t sound bad, and in fact most people–actors and producers alike–working in 99-seat theatre would like actors to be paid more. But AEA is pushing these changes through despite the following facts: (1) Over 7000 paid up AEA members in LA are fighting the proposed changes, with little to no acknowledgment from the union, and (2) Passage will make production budgets swell to the point where there could be a chilling effect on the creation of new work by reducing the number of plays produced in LA. It’s therefore likely some theatres will close, resulting in fewer opportunities for actors, directors and playwrights, as well as adversely affecting the economic vitality of some businesses and neighborhoods.

AEA seems to believe that passing the proposals will create more lucrative union “contracts” (99-seat is not a contract, only a plan allowing members to appear without one) but there’s no evidentiary support for this notion. It’s just a hope. And given that very few producers of 99-seat theatre make their money back producing under the current plan, it’s extremely unlikely they’ll be inclined to increase their budgets (and thereby their losses) if the proposal were to pass. The money just isn’t there.

In addition to being a playwright with a law degree, I have a masters degree in Mediation (again, don’t ask) so I’ve learned first hand that there are always at least three sides to any story. This one’s no different. There has been a lot of speculation on both sides about what might happen if the proposals pass but no one knows for sure what will. One might think, however, that because member pushback against the proposals has been so strong, that the union leadership would go slower and listen. I suggested to AEA’s council, which theoretically works for us, the membership, that before we go to vote, we mediate the dispute, with representatives from both sides, to develop language in a new proposal, which both sides can live with. To their credit, a couple of AEA councilors did get back to me, saying it was a good idea, but sadly, nothing came of it.

It’s seems as though they have decided this thing is going to pass no matter what and are using some rather suspect tactics to make it happen. I offer two bits of evidence in support of this claim: AEA leadership is having, “volunteers” cold-call AEA members, presenting only the “Yes” side of the issue. They’re also prohibiting the “No” side from submitting an information sheet, which might have satisfied the need for “equal time,” to go out in voting materials. In other words, Equity is stacking the deck and using member dues to present a one-sided argument, which most of the LA membership, familiar with what’s going on, is opposed to.

The “No” folks are calling for a special meeting with AEA, demonstrating their willingness to come to the table to talk. But so far, AEA hasn’t budged. That speaks volumes and volumes. Volumes of what, I don’t want to know but make no mistake, whether the proposals pass or fail, LA Theatre—particularly small-venue, intimate theatre, which many playwrights are writing for—will change. That’s because even the “No” people realize that alterations to the 30-year plan are needed. We just don’t want the changes as currently proposed. AEA, on the other hand, is saying, “Vote ‘Yes’ to the proposal and we’ll agree to modifications later.” This is a little like your child’s kidnappers saying, “Give us the money but you’re going to have to trust us your kid’s okay.” Really? Trust you because you’ve been so upfront about everything so far? (Metaphor chosen for dramatic effect).

As to those exceptions: In the proposed plan, Equity has carved out two scenarios, which might spare playwright-producers from having to pay minimum wage from the onset of rehearsals. The first applies to existing membership companies, which could produce your play with their company members of record as of April 1, 2015. The other is a self-production exception where you can put together a group of people to put on your play, just as we have now. BUT you cannot be involved (partnered with, take money from) any 501.C 3 organization; nor can you accept tax- deductible donations. So yeah, you can still self-produce but you’ll need to come up with more money from your trust fund (ha!) or from friends who don’t need the tax deductions. Of course, you always have the option of hiring non-Equity actors. There are some very good ones but in general, the majority of the polished, professional and trained actors out there are members of AEA. Not being able to have them—provided you want them and they want to do your play—does neither side any good.

If you see the value in keeping the major elements of the current plan in place (with negotiated changes still to be worked out), seek out your LA based, paid-up Equity friends and encourage them to vote “No.” People you may know who have come out opposed to the proposed changes include: Actors Tim Robbins, Ed Harris, John Rubinstein, Frances Fisher, Jason Alexander; playwrights Neil LaBute, Jane Anderson, Justin Tanner, Murray Mednick and others who’ve seen their plays produced under the current plan, are also opposed. City council member Mitch O’Farrell is against it. Curiously, Charlayne Woodard, a lovely performer, is a “Yes” voter, as is Samuel L. Jackson who could afford to pay actors far more than minimum wage were he to decide to produce a play.

The fact remains, no producer of 99-seat theatre is getting rich producing theatre under the current plan. They’re barely breaking even. But you don’t need to believe me. Theatre companies have released their budgets to prove it and I urge you to do your own due diligence on the issue. See the AEA website: http://actorsequity.org or call a Western Regional council member for their side. The pro-99 (anti-AEA proposal) site is at: http://ilove99.org Read up.

As Steve Apostalina, an AEA member as well as playwright and producer, noted in his post on the issue (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1507815836104686/permalink/1613642405522028/), when Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot first opened, it was to an audience of one. What Equity house would have risked that? And yet, Mr. Fugard became one of the most important and influential writers in the world – EVER! “Imagine”, says Apostalina, “if we have an Athol Fugard in LA just waiting to be heard. Killing small theatre will likely eliminate the possibility.”

Next time: About that Casting Director…

 

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #7 Choosing Your Director…

# 7.  Choosing your Director

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

When a playwright finds her ideal director, she finds the person who doesn’t just “get” her play but has a vision of where the play could go beyond what the playwright imagined, someone who will interpret the script and add something to it. That’s my take. Some playwrights, however, simply want a director to follow their script, without changing or embellishing—someone who won’t get too “creative.”

This is where having some self-awareness is vital. Are you the type who wants a say in every aspect of getting your play to the stage? If so, consider directing the play yourself. Alan Ayckbourn, the English playwright, built a theatre so he could direct his own plays. Maybe he’s a control freak or maybe he simply enjoys directing. Some people think he does a fine job with his own plays but more than a few directors I know (of course they’re directors) say people other than Ayckbourn direct Ayckbourn better than Ayckbourn directs Ayckbourn. The point is, you can save yourself some angst if you can figure out how much you’re willing to let go before you hire someone. Granted, this is determined, to large extent, on whom you get to direct your play and how much you are able to trust them with your creation. If someone with the reputation of a Dan Sullivan or Emma Rice wants to direct, it might be easier to hand off artistic control but how many of us in low-budget theatre can afford these folks? That is if they’d even deign to read our plays. There’s nothing to be lost by trying for your ideal choice but the simple challenge for most of us is finding a director you can work with and trust, whom you can also afford.

Start your search for a director by seeing a lot of plays produced in your geographic region, particularly those of a similar genre to your play. If you have money to bring someone in from outside that’s fine but see their work, talk to other playwrights and actors about the reputations of prospective directors and filter those opinions based on reviews, genre of play and budget. Once you’ve found some prospects, contact them and ask if you can send your play. If the prospects act like they don’t have time for you, they’re probably not right. In my case, a few directors I contacted just ignored me and that told me something about them too. Another place to look for a director is at local universities, which offer a MFA in Directing or Performance Arts. A recent graduate might be thrilled at the opportunity to direct a new play.

Once a few directors have read your play, meet with each of them and find out what their work process is. Some don’t want the playwright around. Some, like the director of Villa Thrilla, wanted me at every rehearsal. At a talk back with Jonathan Tolins, the author of Buyer & Cellar, I asked him this very question. And he said he sits in on rehearsals for the first week, during read-throughs and character work to answer any questions and then he goes away unless the actors or someone else on the production has a problem. He says the director and actors need time to bitch and moan about the play without fear of offending the writer. Also, not being at all the rehearsals gives him time to write.

Discuss the budgets and ideas for Set Design, Costume, Lighting and Sound. Often directors will have people they’ve worked with in the past and sometimes they are able to get key designers to lower their rates.

What you pay a director is between you and the person you hire. It’s a negotiation like any other and the pay range can be anywhere from $500 to $4000 depending on the schedule and how much work is expected. Some directors are members of the SDC (union) so their rates are set. In other cases, you might form a partnership with someone you honestly like and respect, whom you can see working with for the long haul and giving up a piece of the pie, as it were, and avoid another cash expense. If you decide to do this, however, I’d advise, building into the contract, a buy-out fee, should it turn out you were wrong about that partnership. Beware the director who gets big ideas about expensive things your show needs after you’re already in rehearsal. Ideally you can avoid this by talking things through ahead of time and by finding out a director’s reputation prior to hiring him or her.

All in, your director needs to be keen on directing your play. His or her personality should mesh with yours while at the same time remaining distinct. Putting on a play is a collaboration and, in a way, like a short-term marriage. Spend time researching and choosing your partner and you should have a great working experience.

Next up: Do you need a Casting Director?

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #6 The Where…

#6. The Where — Selecting a Venue

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

To many a playwright, choosing where her play gets produced is no more difficult than selecting a brand of toilet paper. She thinks all she has to do is get her play on a stage and people will come. Maybe this is true when she’s in her 20s and, possibly, 30s but soon after, just like forgoing that sixth story walk-up apartment, she needs to think about the experience she’s asking people to endure.

The sheer act of putting on a play is not going to put butts in seats—at least not for any sort of extended run beyond which point your friends refuse to drive 60 miles in 2nd gear traffic to see your show again. Where you put your show up is important. On the other hand, IF you can get a great review by the mainstream press of your no-name-cast experimental comic melodrama having a run in an abandoned missile silo in Chatsworth, yeah, you might get an audience and I take it all back. One good thing about Chatsworth is there’s lots of free parking. But I digress…sort of.

I selected my space the way a bride’s mother might choose a wedding venue so it’s a good thing I had a son. There were a lot of considerations. I wanted lots of free, safe and easy parking, I wanted clean bathrooms and separate dressing rooms for men and women. I wanted the theatre to be close to people who might come. Pretty simple criteria, right? Wrong. You cannot believe all the tiny, uncomfortable (for both cast and audience) rentable spaces there are in LA located in areas you wouldn’t want to walk at three in the afternoon! And you will be walking because there’s no parking. When I go see a show, I don’t want part of my theatre experience to include hoping somebody will pull away from the curb within five blocks of the theatre. Unfortunately in LA, mass transit is difficult at best so the reality is people drive and need to put their cars somewhere while they see your show. You may think I’m being overly picky but I’m not alone. Part of the reason Elin Hampton selected the Greenway Arts Theatre for her Bells of West 87th was because there’s a dedicated parking lot and good bathrooms!

And there are other things to consider:

How large a playing area do you need? For Villa Thrilla, we wanted a stage with height and breadth to create the illusion of a grand, 2-story house. But perhaps if we’d been more creative, we could have reimagined it. I’m thinking about Alan Aykbourne’s play, Taking Steps, which is set in a 3-story structure but in the playing of it, the actors never climb a stair.

Can you rehearse in the performance space? For actors, being able to rehearse on the stage they’ll be performing on makes them more comfortable and often saves time not having to adjust after rehearsing in your apartment for a month. But this is a luxury and can increase the budget substantially. I do recommend trying to load in at least 10 days prior to opening so everyone can get comfortable.

Will you be sharing the theatre with others either during the day/evening when you’re not using it?

This isn’t a huge deal but it can present scheduling headaches if the space is booked solid with classes, meetings and the like and you need more rehearsal than you bargained for. Try to negotiate to “own” the space 10 days prior to opening for whatever might come up.

How big do you want your “house”? Obviously, theatres with fewer seats are easier to fill. In fact I’m convinced one theatre company in town creates madness around its shows because there are only 29 seats. They always get to say “Sold Out!” Yes you’ll bring in less money but better to sell all of those 29 seats than sell only 29 in a 99-seat house.

As you start thinking about where to do your play, draw up a priority list of what is most important to you and your prospective audience. There will be tradeoffs—easy parking vs. lousy bathrooms; getting to rehearse in the space vs. far from your hoped-for audience. Thinking through what you want will help focus your search and decide what’s most critical for you. Start by approaching theatres/ theatre companies you like and ask them if they rent space. Many do. Getting the choice 6-week slots will be costly ($1500-$2500/week) but sometimes you can get a deal for a weekend or two, sandwiched between the larger productions. I’ve known ambitious playwrights for whom this scenario has worked well. They have been able to generate buzz over a short run and use it to move their shows to bigger, better theatres.

Often, when a show is successful, where it’s being performed truly doesn’t matter to most. “They” will come. But why not choose a venue that will give your show the best chance of becoming successful with the resources you have? Don’t be afraid to negotiate for the deals you want. Life is a negotiation and you’re an artist. Negotiate creatively.

Next Week: Finding your Director

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #5 Budgeting…

#5. Budgeting

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

There’s a basic rule in budgeting—at least for Equity Waiver theatre in Los Angeles where I live and work: A third of your budget buys your set, a third goes to theatre rental and a third to everything else. Presumably if you are paying market rates and you figure out what a third of the troika will cost, you’ll know how much money you’ll need for your show. Of course if somebody tells you that you can use their theatre for $500, throw out the rule.

I started with a vague idea that my show would cost about $35,000. Where did I get that number? From asking other self-producing playwrights what they spent. Everyone I asked said $30-$40,000. Damn, that’s alot. But it seemed to be another rule. These same playwrights were also very generous about showing me their physical budgets, which helped me prepare for the little details like Dry Cleaning and Bulb Replacement, which I never would have thought to include. Having it all in print, also showed me who I’d need to hire and how much it would cost. I didn’t know, for example, that lighting designers, who often quote their fee in the neighborhood of $1500 to “design” don’t always hang their own lights. Who knew I’d need to hire another person? My friends did.

Clearly, LA is only one market but wherever you are, you can start to get an idea of what specific line items will cost by asking people who’ve gone before you. Theatre people are usually generous with their time unless they’re in the midst of producing themselves. You can also get alot of information online. Get hold of a sample theatre budget that shows the specific line items. Then search in your area. (e.g., “Costume Designer, Baltimore.”) Call people and ask for a resume and what they charge; take meetings. Another way to go is the names of “play consultants” in the back of The Dramatists Guild Magazine. But get their credentials and make sure they know what you need to find out before hiring them. It might turn out they only know about producing plays in Cincinnati.

Once you’ve allocated the money you have to spend across all your anticipated costs (all those line items filled in with a dollar amount) you’ll start your hires. There aren’t a lot of people who will work for nothing and you do get what you pay for. But everything’s a negotiation and as you begin to talk and meet with designers, contractors, etc., do ask if they’ll take less. Maybe you’ll catch them when they aren’t busy and they’ll accept a lower rate. Maybe your show is so interesting and you have an awesome cast lined up that will make people want to be involved. Or perhaps you can pull in a favor. No matter what– write things down! Write down the duties and fees you’ve agreed upon. Eric Rudnick, who produced his own Day Traders, to great acclaim, said his biggest budgetary mistake was the one he didn’t get a quote for. He never pinned down one of his key designers and the budget ballooned. And don’t pay anybody everything up front. Put that in writing too.

If you’re working with union people (Actors Equity, Union of Stage Directors) there are contractual amounts and schedules you’ll need to adhere to—all very obtainable info online or by calling. But make sure you budget for this if you want union people.

And as a budget should reflect what might come into your bank as well as what leaves, I’m linking to a piece by Steve Apostolina, an LA based actor/writer/ director/ producer. It originally appeared as a Facebook post in response to the current threat to what’s known here as LA’s 99-Seat plan. It addresses budgets, actors expectations and will go a long way toward helping self-producers understand what to expect.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1507815836104686/permalink/1613642405522028/

The last “rule” I’ll mention, which also, funnily enough, applies to building a house: Things always cost more than you think and take longer to complete. So prepare, get things in writing and give yourself the time to satisfy those line items before crunch time. The good news is, no matter how many things might go wrong on your road to getting your play onstage, the miracle of theatre is the show comes together just when you need it to.

The next installment: Choosing your venue.

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #4 Paying for it (Part 2)…

#4. Paying for it  (Part 2) – You’re on Your Own  (Read Part 1 Here)

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

When I lost the theatre company as a potential financial partner, it fell to me to raise the money for my play. And as I faced that daunting prospect, I again turned to people who’d self-produced before me. Some had trust funds or wealthy spouses—I didn’t; some were ex TV writers with big bank accounts—ditto; an actuary friend financed his show by calculating life expectancies—who knew? Most, however, used some combination of their own money, loans and crowdfunding (Kickstarter, etc.).

Eight to ten months from opening, my plan was to sell my house and use some of the profit to pay for the show while also creating a kickass Kickstarter campaign in the hope that all my friends would give me $20-50 and I’d raise $15,000. After all, I reasoned, whenever I get hit up, I give at least that. But as things turned out, by the time I parted ways with the company, it was too late to put together (what I thought would be) a quality campaign, considering all the producing and rewriting I was doing.

For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on crowdfunding: You can be successful but it’s no longer a new idea and may have even lost some of its appeal. If you’re going to do it, you need to develop your campaign so it attracts investors you don’t know as well as those you do. Running a crowdfunding campaign is like having another project instead of being an easy means to an end. It takes a lot of time. You need to have compelling pictures, text that “grabs the reader”, video and enticing giveaways for donors. Then you need to publicize the crap out of it, while continually adding updates. You need to get people excited about being part of your project enough to donate and ask them to forward the links so others can, all with the hope of going large with fundraising.

There are now hundreds of crowdfunding sites so start by sifting through them to see if there’s a perfect fit for your project. I won’t list all the possibilities; just Google “great crowdfunding sites” and you’ll get there. Regardless of how many options there are, however, most people end up on Kickstarter, Indie-Go-Go or Hatchfund. There are differences so read the fine print. For example, Hatchfund likes to say the artist keeps the entire donation but what they do is add a fee to the donor. To me this feels like a trick. It’s not cool if your friend intended his total give to be $20 and now he has to do some math in order to keep it there. Kickstarter and Hatchfund need you to make your entire stated amount before they release funds while Indie-Go-Go lets you keep what’s been donated even if you don’t make your nut (though they’ll take a larger fee for your right to do so). Depending on how much money you need, it might be better to go to a few individuals and say, “Hey, I’m trying to raise some money for my show. Would you possibly give me $100 and I’ll give you 4 tickets to opening night?”

In my case I just didn’t have any hours left to flog the crowdfunding endeavor, particularly since I was so late in starting. In retrospect I should not have counted on things working out with the theatre company and developed the campaign. But when that fell through about 9 weeks before opening, I had to scramble and there just wasn’t time. Had I found a volunteer to take over the task, I might have proceeded as well.

So in the end, it was the house sale that came through. Of course I would have preferred to use other peoples’ money. When something is not likely to make its money back, one should always risk somebody else’s money. But I didn’t have that privilege and I’d grown tired of waiting for my mystery benefactor or that angel artistic director to appear. And seriously, at my age (55) and a woman? The chances of that happening were about as likely as being offered the casting couch. There aren’t many “emerging” playwrights my age, unless you want to define “emerging” as people nobody knows finally popping their heads out of the sand. So, like the lioness Theresa Rebeck and many others before me, I needed to be my biggest fan and self-produce my own work. Put your money where your mouth is, right?

Next up: The Budget and Trying Not to Break it

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #4 Paying for it (Part 1)…

#4 Paying for it (Part 1) – The Company Connection

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

Where does a self-producer get the money to put on a show? Do you bankrupt yourself like Michael Keaton’s character in Birdman? Maybe. (Spoiler alert: It worked out for him.)

Once my play was chosen, there came the question of paying for the production. Of course I had an idea of where I’d get the funds. However, once I’d made the commitment to go forward, reality struck when I had to start writing checks.

My first choice was to ally myself with a theatre company because doing so would help carry the load—from providing the physical space to assisting with lights, costumes, casting etc. Companies will do a co-production because they need shows to fill their theatres and plays in which their members (who usually pay dues and contribute a certain number of hours per week keeping the company going) can perform. But there’s usually a trade off: You may need to cast the company’s members (or a certain percentage) in your show, which may not be in your play’s best interest. You may have to pay for half the set.

If offered such a deal, explore it because doing all the production work yourself requires not only money, but time and lots of effort, some of which in retrospect, I’d like to have back. If you go this route, make sure before you get going that both you and the company are clear about what elements you and they will be responsible for. And write it down! This is a contract and best not left to a verbal understanding. If you either don’t have, or prefer not to work with, a company then you’ll need to come up with the money on your own–from finding an outside financial backer like a rich uncle or through donations and crowd funding.

In the early going with Villa Thrilla, I had a theatre company interested in a co-production. We spent months going down the road on the details: How many company members would I need to cast? Who will be responsible for what portions of the budget? Who would direct? Sadly, we couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds on much of anything and we parted company. I didn’t want to hand off a lot of (what I thought were important) decisions to someone else whose opinions, though valid, were so divergent from my own. Unfortunately, this decision came late in the going, leaving me with a rented theatre space and not a lot of time to put it all together. I recount my experience here to point up what to look out for, not to scare you. Plenty of other playwrights have nothing but good things to say about the arrangements they made with companies. But the rift had me scared and questioning whether I’d made the right decision. I almost bailed on the project out of fear I couldn’t pull it off on my own. Ultimately, I decided to forge ahead, somewhat blindly.

Next up: Crowd funding and where I got the money for Villa Thrilla.

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #3 Selecting the Work…

#3 The Play’s the Thing – Selecting the Work

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

In the wild, lions rule and don’t care if others like the way they take down big game. But in the small, equity-waiver theatre world most of us frequent, once you decide to self-produce, you need other people. It’s one of the best things about doing it—the collaboration. But putting on a play is expensive so at the onset the artist part of you needs to have a conversation with the practical side (yes, you have one). The play really is “the thing.” If you are not in a theatre company that has a built in support network, you need to choose a show that will attract a good director, actors, co-producers, and designers, which will also ideally find an enthusiastic audience. I’m not in the school of artists who say the work is enough. We write/act/create to connect with others and if we can’t get people to see our art, then we’ve failed in that little piece of why we make it. The main reason we make art—because we are compelled to—in this, we’ll never fail.

Whether you’re an actor, director or playwright with a couple of scripts to choose from—you need to select the play that is most likely to achieve your desired end. Is it to get an agent? Is it to get good reviews or to develop a Google presence? Actress/Producer/Director Deidra Edwards was smart when she decided to self-produce, casting herself in Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig. She was right for the role and she selected a play/playwright with a big following.

My goal was to restart my career after early success, which I’d abandoned to raise my son. I also wanted to have fun. In retrospect, these goals were not enough and were motivated too much by emotion rather than any sort of business sense.

Of the two plays I thought were ready, one was a four-character dramedy about an Apollo astronaut with Alzheimer’s and the other, a ten-character murder mystery farce called Villa Thrilla—very different shows that would speak to very different audiences. To help me decide, I consulted friends, fellow playwrights and others in the industry and it was generally agreed that without a known actor starring as the astronaut, the astronaut play would be the harder sell. It would be difficult to put an uplifting positive spin on the story so that people would come see an unknown, in a play by an unknown. So I went with the farce, which was beset with its own set of hurdles: a cast of ten and more expensive set, which would require a larger theatre. Looking back, with the issues we faced, I might as well have tossed a coin. And speaking of coin, the next post will be about getting the money together.

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #2 Be a Lion…

#2. How I Decided to be a Lion.

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

“Be a Lion, Be a Fucking Wolf, Take No Shit, Set Goals, Smash Them. Eat People’s Faces Off. Be a Better Person. Stay the Mother Fucking Course. Show People Who the Fuck You Are. Never Apologize for Being Awesome.” All right, one shouldn’t eat peoples’ faces off nor use the F word so freely. But if I hadn’t yet decided to produce my own play, reading this quote would have nailed it for me.

See for too long I thought there was a formula for success and once I found it, I’d become the successful artist-person I wanted to be. So in my search I read Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson and Eckhart Tolle. I absorbed the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” and found no success. I bought into “Start With the End in Mind,” yet, mindful of that hoped-for end, nothing happened. I absorbed The Forum and watched The Secret. I even entertained the idea of Scientology until the negative aspects of that cult made it impossible to consider seriously.

I embraced the idea that there was actually something I could do or avoid doing that would ensure I would become a successful writer. I made a poster in power colors on which I pasted pictures of beautiful ranches and vacation spots I wanted to travel to and award daises where one day I’d accept a prestigious prize; all with the goal, promoted by the self-help gurus, that if I envisioned my—future, success, goal—what I dreamed of would happen. So I envisioned. I worked on my craft, kept writing and envisioned some more and believed and trusted and went out in the world and tried and tried and tried. And nothing.

All that envisioning started back in the early 80s and I’m over 50 now. You do the math. That’s a lot of years hoping for something to happen and not much of what was on my power poster has appeared. Some might say I didn’t envision hard enough or I was envisioning incorrectly but I figured out that for me–all that hoping was in fact handing off the responsibility for my success to somebody or some thing other than myself. It also ultimately made me feel “less than,” which is the opposite of what the positive thinking bandwagon makes a good deal of money promoting.

I really thought there was something I could do, someone I could become, some sort of mantle I could don that could make the people in control of who gets picked artistically pick me. This was true whether I was auditioning for a part I really wanted or, once I began writing, submitting a play that would capture the hearts and minds of the pickers who were in control of choosing what plays got put on. I just needed to figure out what that was and my name would be at the top of their list. Obviously all of this, over time, has proved to be completely fallacious reasoning. That’s not to say keeping hope alive isn’t important; I just wish I’d figured out earlier that I needed to be the lion because I wouldn’t have wasted so much time hoping somebody would step up and roar for me. Well fuck waiting for something to happen; time to make some noise.

Coming up next: Selecting the play.

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #1 The Decision…

#1. The Decision to Self-Produce or I’m Self-Producing my Play… Agh!

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

After more than 30 years of loving theatre, writing plays, studying the craft of playwriting and having my plays selected for readings and workshops; after years of submitting those plays to theatres large and small around the country (and England) and receiving many a glowing (albeit boilerplate) rejection; and after fellowships, labs and a couple of prizes along the way, I decided, however foolhardy, to produce my own play.

“What—why—how—?” People asked. And not just people—friends; trusted allies in the slog through life. All good questions, but ones that ultimately only served to strengthen my resolve. As to why I felt compelled to do this, the reason that comes quickest to mind was: If I chickened out, then it wasn’t clear—despite all the aforementioned time and effort and minor success that I’d had with my plays—that anyone else was going to. Oh, yeah, it could happen; and I live in hope and engage in many forms of positive thinking that it would. But in practical terms, it was looking more and more unlikely. And it became very clear that if I wanted to see a play of mine onstage before I needed a walker, I was going to have to produce it myself.

As I said, I’ve been writing plays for over 30 years and had some lucky, early success when my first play was produced and directed by Dorothy Lyman. Then life intervened. I had a child, we moved, the child had ambitions, which kept me busy and not pursuing my own goals. But now, with my son grown and off to college, I found myself starting over. In starting over, however, where exactly does one start? It’s not that I’d ever stopped writing, but I’d dropped out of the game and most of the principal participants had changed in the interim. Dorothy closed her theatre twenty years ago and moved back to New York. I didn’t have any friends with theatre companies and though I hung around a few before I jumped into this madness, no one was buyin’ what I was sellin’. So there was another reason I needed to do it myself.

Over the next few months, I’ll be writing about the journey of how I came to be brave (or silly) enough to self-produce, along with recounting the minefields, pitfalls, fears and yes joys! that have occurred along the road to getting my play on its feet in front of a (mostly) paying audience. I’ll give you the what, why, how and where, as well as all the angsty decisions about money, selecting a director, finding a co-producer (you didn’t think I was stupid or brave enough to do everything myself did you?), choosing a theatre, actors, the union, designers, publicity or lack of it, and bad reviews. My goal is not to scare anybody but to give other playwrights the confidence to produce their own work, to arm them with some information about how they might do that and the resilience to see it all through.